A photo from Indiana's state wrestling tournament (Photo/Steve Asa)
Five years ago, InterMat did a feature article analyzing the different state tournament formats across the country (individual, dual meet, scored vs. unscored, number of qualifiers, number of classes, et al). Now it's time to revisit one aspect of the topic with an analytical twist.
At times there is discussion on both state and national message boards about the merits of "classed" individual state wrestling tournaments. At the simplest level, the debate may center on if the state wrestling tournament be conducted as one event regardless of school enrollment size. On a secondary level, discussion may shift towards the "proper" number of classes.
To set the table for this discussion, let's lay out how many classes (or divisions) each state has for its individual bracket wrestling championships at present. Note that certain states will use classifications that are in effect across all sports, while others will create an equal number of schools/teams in each division for that specific sport.
At the simplest level, those advocating for a single-class tournament believe that all individuals should go after a single championship for that state. Having multiple state champions takes away from the concept of "state champion" (emphasis on the singular). Individual wrestlers can be successful regardless of the size of the school for which they compete. Additional positive notes of a single-class event include the rigor associated with winning, placing, and/or qualifying in said tournament.
To the contrary, those advocating for classed state tournaments believe that the size of school for which a wrestler competes does have impact on success. Generally speaking, this concept of success is defined on both the individual and team (program) levels. While individual success may be independent of school size, team success is clearly not independent. This is due to the "law of large numbers" and other related factors. In addition team success (as well as success for individuals on the team) tends create greater engagement towards the sport, and an increased ability for the sport to remain (or become) attractive and relevant within that school/community.
To provide some perspective on the impact of single-class wrestling on the landscape of the sport within a given state, let's examine data from this past year's state tournament series in Indiana. As per the exhibit above, Indiana has a single-class state wrestling tournament. In addition, the quality of wrestling within the state is pretty good, as measured by the 12 wrestlers that were nationally ranked at the end of the 2013-14 high school season.
In terms of state tournament series format, it is symmetrical. Sixteen wrestlers qualify to the state tournament in each weight class (224 in total). Four semi-state tournaments advance four wrestlers each to that event, and the 16 wrestlers that qualify to semi-state per weight class (896 in total) have advanced through two initial tournaments in the state series.
There are over 300 high schools in the state of Indiana that sponsor high school wrestling. The below chart presents those schools based on the number of students enrolled. Information comes from here. The analysis in the two charts below is based on how each school fits into the four classifications used for the state basketball tournament.
Of interest here is the extreme dominance of the biggest enrollment schools in terms of producing state qualifiers and semi-state qualifiers (the pool of wrestlers from which the state qualifiers are produced).
To complement the above chart, the 74 largest enrollment schools that sponsor wrestling produced 113 (one more than half) of the state qualifiers; while the 89 largest enrollment schools that sponsor wrestling produced 413 (exactly half) of the semi-state qualifiers. Keep in mind that there are over 300 high schools in Indiana that sponsor wrestling.
One other question meriting examination is exactly to what extent is performance correlated to enrollment. To do this, I created metric (though it is somewhat artificial) using all schools that sponsored wrestling in basketball classifications 4A, 3A, and 2A -- along with those 1A schools with a semi-state qualifier.
For the enrollment side, the schools were ranked from highest to lowest enrollment; with the highest enrollment scoring 280 points, and the smallest 1 point.
The performance aspect had two separate components, as well as the sum of those components. The first component was the number of state qualifiers, while the second component was the number of semi-state qualifiers. For each component, the tiebreaker was the ranking in the other component. It was scored on a 280-to-1 scale similar to enrollment. The sum of the components was also ordered on a 280-to-1 scale.
For all three tests, the correlation coefficient between performance and enrollment was about 0.44. While it is not the strongest of correlations from a statistical standpoint, it does suggest that there is a degree of connectivity between wrestling program performance (as measured by state series success) and the size of the school.
Based on the types of conclusions that the data above yield, as well as more subjective considerations, it is my belief that classed wrestling tournaments tend to serve a broad set of interests. Those would include the growth of the sport, as well as the engagement of stake-holders at various levels. The exception to this would be cases where the number of schools and/or the quality of the wrestling talent pool does not justify the presence of (multiple) classes.
All that being said, there is some merit to arguments centering around the premise that having too many classes (for example, Virginia going from three to six for the 2013-14 season) can affirm the perceived "everyone gets a trophy" complex. It also can create a dynamic where winning a state title fails to carry the cache that one thinks it should. As with most topics discussed, there is no blanket answer. One should enter with an open mind and be willing to engage on multiple levels.